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US Army's LEMV successfully completes maiden flight

The US Army’s Long Endurance Multi-Intelligence Vehicle (LEMV) has successfully completed its maiden flight.

LEMV is a persistent intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) platform that flew for more than 90 minutes over Lakehurst Naval Air Station, New Jersey, on 7 August.

Described as the world’s largest and most persistent lighter-than-air optionally piloted aircraft, LEMV was designed, built and flown in 24 months by prime contractor Northrop Grumman and an industry team that included Cranfield-based Hybrid Air Vehicles, which was responsible for air vehicle design.

In use, LEMV can reportedly operate in partnership with other land-, sea- and air-based assets, providing unmanned surveillance of up to 21 days at up to 20,000ft (6,096m) and up to five days manned at 16,000ft.

According to a statement, the endurance ability of the LEMV system comes from a design that is built around Hybrid Air Vehicles’ HAV304 aircraft design and Northrop Grumman’s open system architecture design, which provides a modular and flexible payload capability along with room for mission expansion and growth.

Northrop Grumman was responsible for the overall system development, integration and implementation of the open system architecture, unmanned flight control software, mission system flight and ground operations and maintenance and field support for worldwide operations.

Team member Warwick Mills was responsible for fabric development, ILC Dover for hull fabrication and seaming, AAI Corporation for air vehicle control through its Universal Ground Control Station and SAIC for full-motion video exploitation.

The US Army's Long Endurance Multi-Intelligence Vehicle has successfully completed a maiden flight that saw the aircraft fly for more than 90 minutes

Key features

  • Energy efficient; fuel consumption more than 10 times less than comparable capability
  • 12–24 forward deployed crew members to support 18 vehicles 24/7/365
  • 1,500–2,400nm range with 15,000lb (heavy-lift configuration)
  • More than 21 days’ endurance with 2,750lb payload (ISR configuration)
  • Payload volume more than 2,700ft³; heavy-lift yield additional volume
  • Service ceiling greater than 22,000ft, MSL
  • Loiter/dash speed: 30/80 knots


  • More than 21 days of ‘unblinking stare’
  • Proven multi-INT payload integration
  • Multi-mission capable: persistent surveillance, force protection, counter-drug operations
  • Support for host-nation ops, disaster, humanitarian relief, overwatch/support troops
  • Flexible Murphy Bay modules to accommodate current and future payloads
  • Very short or vertical take-off, excellent ground stability
  • Bow thruster to provide low-speed control and position hold capability
  • Leverage-proven type-certified engine
  • Future growth accomplished through field installations
  • Radar, SIGINT, Full Motion Video, LOS/BLOS COMM relay

Source: Northrop Grumman

Readers' comments (14)

  • Its impossible to shoot anything 20,000 feet away using small-arms fire. A sophisticated antiaircraft battery using cannon might do it but at nearly five miles away, the airship would be almost invisible. Think about it; imagine pointing your large caliber rifle at the tiny speck at the front of your average vapor trail. That speck is probably a jumbo-jet! Even a bullet from the most powerful rifle isn't traveling in a straight line after nearly five miles!

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  • V pleased to see reference to ILC Dover as one of the suppliers. A dear friend, Gene Alexandroff was part of the team who developed fabrics for the space suits worn and the 'tri-axial' fabric there as part of the original Apollo mission to the moon. (unlike traditional weaves, (Warp and weft at 90 degrees) this has three yarn sets at 60 degrees. This was supposed to ensure that the fabric could not tear. A catastrophic failure would result. It was originally proposed that the capsule (containing the astronauts) should glide back during the final stages of decent (once in the atmosphere). Eventually, via some value engineering at the other 'end' of the 5,000 ton rocket...a few extra grams of weight were allocated to the parachute capsule allowing use of the traditional 'cluster'-tried and tested technology.
    I would be interested to learn if the present designers of air-ship structures are aware of triaxial fabrics and/or of the work of Shute/Wallis et al in the 20s. Shute's biography 'Slide Rule' may help.
    Mike B

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  • the LEMV is a very interesting concept. Do you have an idea about availibility rate due to weather conditions ? I ve read it can fly at 80mph max. Does anyone now how often winds will exceed 80mph at 22000 feet? Regarding landing and take off : what are the maximum wind speeds supported? Thank you.

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  • Surely this is newsworthy?

    The project has been cancelled and the project aircraft about to be scapped- HAV are trying to buy it back from the US military

    Can't see anywhere The Engineer has reported on this.

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